United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Trevis Coles brings this action against his former employer,
Harris Teeter, alleging the grocery store fired him because
of his disability. Having successfully removed the case,
Defendant now moves to dismiss on the ground that the
Complaint fails to state a plausible wrongful-termination or
discrimination claim against it. As the Court agrees with the
former contention but not the latter, it will grant the
Motion in part.
Court, as it must at this stage, draws the facts from the
Complaint and assumes them to be true. Sparrow v. United
Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
Plaintiff lives in the District of Columbia and suffers from
glaucoma. See ECF No. 1, Exh. A (Complaint),
¶¶ 2, 6. In December 2015, his doctor prescribed
him marijuana to help alleviate the symptoms of his disease.
Id., ¶ 7. According to the District's
Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act
of 2010, D.C. Code § 7-1671.01, et seq., Coles
properly registered that prescription with the D.C.
Department of Health and received a medical-marijuana card
for this purpose. Id., ¶¶ 7-8.
months later, around March 6, 2016, Defendant hired Coles to
work on an at-will basis as a cashier in one of its grocery
stores. Id., ¶ 9. He performed well in that
role by reporting early for his shifts, taking on additional
responsibilities, and avoiding any disciplinary trouble.
Id., ¶ 11. A month or two in, however,
Coles's number got called for a random drug screen at
work, and he tested positive for marijuana on May 4.
Id., ¶¶ 12-13.
explained to his Store Manager, Dan Kuzor, that he used
physician-prescribed medical marijuana to treat his glaucoma.
Id., ¶ 14. Kuzor assured him that the positive
screen would not be a problem so long as Coles provided a
valid prescription to this effect. Id., ¶¶
14-15. Three days later, on May 7, Plaintiff did so.
Id., ¶ 15. Harris Teeter nevertheless fired him
on May 10 for violating its substance-abuse policy.
Id., ¶ 16.
September 15, Coles filed this suit in the Superior Court of
the District of Columbia, asserting that Defendant had
unlawfully terminated him. See id. at 1. Having
removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity
jurisdication, Harris Teeter now seeks to dismiss it.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a plaintiff to
include “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6), in turn, provides for
the dismissal of an action where such a complaint fails
“to state a claim upon which relief can be
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must
“treat the complaint's factual allegations as true
. . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all
inferences that can be derived from the facts
alleged.'” Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113
(quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608
(D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted). The pleading rules are
“not meant to impose a great burden, ” Dura
Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and
“detailed factual allegations” are thus not
necessary. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007). A complaint, however, “must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court need not accept
as true “a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts
set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d
178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation
marks omitted)). The facts instead “must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level”
even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citing Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).
presses two independent state-law counts in alleging that
Defendant unlawfully terminated him. The first asserts a
wrongful-termination claim arising under the District's
common law, and the second alleges that Defendant fired him
because of his glaucoma in violation of the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act. The Court takes up the sufficiency
of each allegation in turn.
considering Plaintiff's wrongful-termination claim, the
Court starts with the well-established principle that
“in the District of Columbia . . . an employer may
discharge an at-will employee at any time and for any reason,
or for no reason at all.” Adams v. George W.
Cochran & Co., 597 A.2d 28, 30 (D.C. 1991). District
of Columbia courts, however, recognize a very narrow
public-policy exception for cases in which “the
employee's termination offends some ‘mandate of
public policy' that is ‘firmly anchored in either
the Constitution or in a statute or regulation which clearly
reflects the particular public policy being relied
upon.'” Bilal-Edwardsv. United
Planning Org., 896 F.Supp.2d 88, 94 (D.D.C. 2012)
(quoting Carson v. Sim, 778 F.Supp.2d 85, 97 (D.D.C.
2011)). In other words, a plaintiff pleading a
wrongful-termination claim based on the public-policy
exemption must identify a policy source that ...